Kinsearching July 3, 2011




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     In the course of researching their colonial family history, genealogists usually associate constables with performing such duties as apprehending felons, guarding prisoners, capturing and returning deserters and runaway slaves, and overseeing militia musters. Many people, therefore, are not aware that in colonial America their functions included inspecting the tobacco fields and counting the annual tobacco crop. Those often overlooked aspects and the men who acted in that capacity in one area are explored in the new book, CONSTABLES AND TOBACCO PLANTERS IN ORANGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, 1735-1769 by Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou.

     As the author mentions in the preface, mid-eighteenth century Orange County was the parent of the Virginia counties of Augusta, Culpeper, Frederick, Greene, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock. In her interesting introduction, she explains that tobacco served both as the American colony’s dominate staple and as the main form of currency. Since it was imperative to maintain the quality of tobacco production, justices of the county court divided Orange into precincts and appointed a local resident of each precinct as constable for the term of one year. Between the years 1735 and 1769, the county court appointed more than 200 constables in approximately forty Orange County precincts. The 22-page introduction also provides extensive information on such topics as tobacco cultivation in early Virginia, colonial laws pertaining to the crop, qualifications for the office of constable, the procedure for his appointment, his duties and remunerations, dereliction of duties, lists of tobacco planters, time table for turning in lists, and prosecution charges against planters. In her annotations, she describes how she was able to decipher the precinct boundaries.

     Papageorgiou populates the pages of her scholarly publication with valuable data concerning the constables and tobacco planters of colonial Orange County. Gleaning details from microfilmed county court order books (which cover a period of complicated boundary changes), online databases and digital images of Virginia land office patents and grants, and several published works of deeds, lists of tithables, road orders, and statutes, she has reconstructed the constable precincts and explains where they exist now. Year by year between 1735 and 1769, she places each constable in his corresponding precinct.

     Utilizing Papageorgiou’s material, family researchers may be able to pinpoint where their ancestors resided. Since families, friends, and neighbors often migrated together, genealogists may also find in the same area the names of other individuals who may provide clues for further research. For example, in 1745 in Orange County Precinct II (as designated by the compiler), “John Mallory is by the Court appointed Constable in the room of Robert Bickers who is discharged from that office and the said Mallory was sworn into his said office and Took the Oaths appointed by the Tobacco Law....” Another example of items in the records is this 1742/43 entry concerning precinct Madison II-A (as designated by the compiler): “Richard Yarborough executed attachments on the estates of David Phillips and John Spiller.” Some recurring surnames in the records are BLAKENBECKER/BLANKENBAKER, BOHANNAN/BOHANNON, CAVE, COOK/COOKE, FINNEL/FINNELL, HERNDON, KENDAL/KENDALL, MALLORY, MCDOWEL/MCDOWELL, MITCHELL, PHILLIPS, PRICE, STEPHENS/STEVENS, and WOOD.

     Obviously, Papageorgiou put much time and effort into gathering and documenting her material as she highlights the significance of tobacco in people’s lives and the economy during the colonial era. CONSTABLES AND TOBACCO PLANTERS IN ORANGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, 1735-1769 will be an asset to researchers delving into the area’s local history and the genealogy of the county’s inhabitants.

     The 178-page publication has soft covers, a preface, an introduction, maps, an appendix, tables, a list of abbreviations for sources, endnotes, a five-page bibliography, and a full name and place index. To the book's price of $27.50, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $5.50 for one book and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $7.50 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional book. The volume (item order #9012) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, Maryland 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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